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Getting the most from your MBA requires careful research to ensure that the business school and programme are right for you.
It is a good idea, for example, to talk to students, faculty and alumni to see if the school’s culture is a good fit. Can you picture yourself learning and developing social ties there?
Lawrence Cole, an MBA student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, recommends visiting business schools outside of the formal recruitment weekends. While Cole says he has nothing against these events for prospective MBA students, he believes that visiting the campus at another time “gives you a more authentic feel for a place”.
Career and alumni network
Where you want to end up in your career may also affect your choice of school, so it is wise to analyse their employment record.
“Check out LinkedIn or corporate profiles of people at the companies you are interested in pursuing,” says Emma Livingston, an MBA graduate of Sauder School of Business in Vancouver, Canada. “If they all attended a select group of schools, it is a great sign the school has close ties to the companies’ human resources departments.”
Also, find out how active and widespread the alumni network is. These groups can provide valuable support, careers advice and information long after you graduate.
Class profile and campus life
It is vital to consider the composition of the class as you will be learning from your peers, not just your textbooks. Studying with students from different nationalities may enhance your knowledge of international business, for example.
Also consider the size of the cohort. Harvard Business School offers the advantages of both large and small classes. With some 900 students, Dee Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at the school, says: “We have an exceptionally diverse group that comes from many different countries, backgrounds, industries, experiences and perspectives.”
The school also places first-year students into sections of 90 who study and learn together throughout the first year. “This facilitates bonds and friendships that last a lifetime,” she adds.
Investigate what life on campus has to offer, such as clubs and extracurricular activities that can add to your learning experience. Pauline Wan, an MBA student at NUS Business School in Singapore, describes a seminar, focused on start-ups, that was organised by the school and the university entrepreneurship club. The guest speaker was Ming Lei, co-founder of Baidu, the Chinese search engine, who shared insights on developing a successful company.
Location and work visas
Eli Daquioag, an MBA student at New York University’s Stern School of Business, advises keeping in mind the accessibility of people, companies and industries when you decide which school to apply to. For example, studying in New York has enabled him to visit big media companies such as NBCUniversal and Viacom, which have their headquarters in the city. By building these relationships in his first semester, he was able to secure an internship with cable channel USA Network.
It is vital to consider the composition of the class as you will be learning from your peers, not just from your textbooks
Apart from the cost of living, consider the lifestyle. Matt Barnett moved from the UK to study for his MBA at UNSW Business School in Sydney, Australia. He points out there are few places in the world where you can head off to a beach to run or surf after work. “It’s a wonderful balance, and ultimately leads to a far more positive and productive life,” he says.
If you wish to study overseas and hope to find work in the region after graduation, look at the work visa arrangements. Laura Rojo, director of market intelligence, recruitment and admissions at Sauder School of Business, says Canada has a progressive visa and immigration policies focusing on attracting highly skilled workers. “This has tremendous benefits for prospective MBAs hoping to relocate to North America, with graduates securing work permits of up to three years and eligibility for permanent residency after just one year of full-time employment,” she says.
Partner- and family-friendly schools
If you are bringing your partner and children with you, find out what facilities and social clubs are available for them. “The support of family and partners is crucial to the success of our students,” says Philippe Oster, director of communication, development and admissions for the HEC Paris MBA. Partners are welcome at student events at no extra cost, helping to ease their transition from a partner to a member of the HEC Paris community, he says.
Look out for the various stamps of approval bestowed on schools and courses. For example, check if a school is accredited by internationally recognised bodies such as the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) in the US and Equis (European Quality Improvement System), the international accreditation arm of the European Foundation for Management Development. When referring to rankings publications, pay attention to the methodology to see whether it adheres to your values.
Programme format and teaching methods
Should you choose a one- or two-year MBA? Conrad Chua, head of MBA admissions and careers at Cambridge Judge Business School, says the school’s one-year degree suits many students who have a wide range of work experience that helps them cope well with the rigorous demands of a shorter programme. “As the student is able to return sooner to the workplace, the opportunity costs are also reduced, so a one-year programme suits many candidates very well both practically and financially,” he adds.
A two-year MBA is generally an option for career-switchers and offers the chance of taking up an internship. Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean and director of admissions at Yale School of Management, explains that the two-year MBA has advantages in that for “most people it is important to have additional time to learn, explore and develop professionally”.
“Especially at a time when professional careers span not just roles and organisations but industries and even sectors, developing a broad-based set of competencies is critical, as is the ability to understand how these competencies fit together. Doing so takes time,” he adds.
Finally, research the faculty — are they practitioners and do they have connections with industry? Find out what teaching methods are used, such as live case studies and company visits. Also, will you have the chance to carry out a consulting project with your target organisation or in an emerging economy? Whether you are trying to earn a promotion or change jobs, keep your end goal in mind to make the right choice.